My Natural Hair Journey: It’s Not Just Hair
"You must hate your hair, it looks so difficult to manage," said the older white woman sitting next to me at the hair salon. My hairdresser had to temporarily work out of a "white" hair salon due to her salon getting some remodeling done. I sat there in shock and disbelief and politely said, "No, I love my hair, it's so versatile. I can wear it straight or curly". I took the high road. Oh, trust me, I wanted to tell her about herself, but what was the point of arguing with someone about something they didn't understand. She gave me the look of "yeah right" and stared me down as my hairdresser proceeded to finish my hair. I was recently reminded of this incident while reading an article titled 5 Things You Didn't Know About Black Women's Hair. It got me thinking about my relationship with my hair throughout the years.
My hair and I have been through a lot together. I haven't always loved it. In the environment I grew up in, my kinky hair was not acceptable. It was unmanageable, messy, too nappy, and unprofessional. I think I was about 6 or 7 when my father started relaxing my hair. Those not familiar with a relaxer, it's a chemical process that straightens curly hair. After my parents divorced, there was no one else around to do my hair, but my dad. As a single parent, for him, my straightened tresses were a much needed time saver. Eventually, he passed the job over to a hairdresser, thus starting my journey at hair salons.
I had hair appointments every 4-6 weeks, and even more frequently, when I got to college, I was going every 2 weeks. In 2002 I decided to stop getting relaxers. I was tired of the constant touch-ups and the scabs I would get from a stylist leaving the relaxer on my scalp too long. So, I switched to flat ironing, but over time the heat started to cause some severe breakage; needless to say, my hair had had enough.
Something else I also came to grips with during that time is that I had gotten so used to getting my hair done that I had no idea how to do my hair. Can you believe that? It hit me hard one day, as I thought about it, I had always relied on my stylist to wash and style my hair. How had I let it come to this? By the time 2009 rolled around, I was over the damage I was doing to my hair and started researching natural hair products. I was in awe at how much information was available for Black women looking to transition from straightening their hair to wearing it in its natural state.
It took me a long time to figure out what products to use and how to achieve different styles, like twist outs and braid outs. As soon as I started to get the hang of it, I began to love my hair! I rocked my kinky hair with pride, and for the first time in years, I felt like I could be my authentic self. It was as if someone had lifted a weight; there was no pressure to fit a mold and hide who I was. I had acquired this newfound freedom. When I wore my hair straight, I would avoid water at all costs. I had to be very strategic about my exercise schedule, and I dreaded rainy weather. That all changed when I embraced my natural hair; getting my hair wet was no longer a big deal.
Throughout the years, I've realized that switching up my style from time to time with Senegalese twist, weaves, crochet braids, or straight styles doesn't make me any less "natural." What matters most is the intent behind it. One has to ask themselves, am I doing this to hide who I am and conform to what society deems acceptable? Or, am I doing this to celebrate the versatility? I love experimenting with different looks in all honesty, and sometimes I need to give my hair a break. My hair is fun! I love that I can have straight hair one day and curly hair the next.
You may think, what's the big deal? It's just hair. Well, guess what, it's not just hair. Historically, Black people are told that the way our hair grows out of our heads is socially unacceptable, crazy, right? From a young age, we're told to adapt and assimilate to white beauty standards. The implications that can have on one's psyche and self-esteem at an early age can be harmful, and it can take years to unlearn that kind of social conditioning.
Over the years, wearing my hair in its natural kinky texture has given me a renewed sense of pride in my identity as a woman with African roots. There is comfort in knowing that I no longer wear my hair in certain styles, out of a desire to conform, but more so in celebration of the endless possibilities.
Below are some of my favorite curly girl products. Girls with curls, what are some of your favorite products?